The Royals struck first, with a decisiveness that suggested this game was going to be a runaway in their favor.
Natural born leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar lashed an 0-2 pitch down the third base line for a double to open the game. He was followed by a Mike Moustakas special (an opposite field hit, as if you didn’t know) and the Royals were on the board. A Trevor May wild pitch moved Moustakas to second and it looked as if the Royals were in one of those offensively unstoppable modes. The game was barely minutes old and the rout was taking flight.
Ehhhh… Hang on.
Moustakas broke for third on a ground ball back to the pitcher and was dutifully thrown out. Instead of a blowout, the game turned into a series of missed opportunities, wasted chances and outs on the bases. All told, the Royals gave away a full inning of outs on the base paths. In addition to the Moustakas out in the first, Alex Gordon was picked off second base (on a play that looked a borderline balk) and Kendrys Morales was gunned down at home. The good news is, they weren’t the only ones making outs on the bases. The Twins first baserunner of the night, Eduardo Escobar, who owns a lone steal in 2015, was thrown out attempting for stolen base number two. Maybe he was emboldened by what feels a recent spate of successful thefts against Sal Perez. Maybe Royals starter Chris Young, with the deliberate delivery and slo-motion fastball was an appealing victim. Whatever the motivation, Escobar was out and only the throw to the third base side of the bag made it close.
At any rate, after looking like they were going to put this away early, one run was all the Royals would plate through the first seven inning.
That put the focus squarely on the aforementioned Young. And boy, did he come through.
According to the preliminary PitchF/X data, Young threw 60 fastballs and 23 sliders. The fastball averaged 88 mph, while the slider was routinely clocked at 81 mph. The Twins had to know what was coming, they had to know they could set dead-red (or in Young’s case, dead orangish), yet they couldn’t square the ball. The Twins swung and missed at only five pitches all night. They put 17 balls in play. The Royals defense turned 16 of those into outs.
Young carried a no-hitter into the seventh. It was one of the more unlikely, yet extraordinary pitching performances of the year. A Trevor Plouffe triple off the very top of the wall ended the bid.
I don’t know how that ball stayed in the yard. One night after the Twins cashed in a home run that barely found its way over the green padding in left-center, this seemed to be karmic payback. Plouffe’s triple hit off the extreme tip top of the giant wall down the right field line. (Lost in the moment was not one, but two potentially costly miscues by Alex Rios. One, he was way too close to the wall. The ball took a powerful carom back to the infield, but it hit so far up the wall, I don’t know why Rios was that close to said wall to begin with. And two, his throw back to the infield short-hopped Moustakas at third. Only Young, correctly backing up third, saved the shutout.)
After four really good starts to open his Royals career, Young wobbled in his previous two, allowing 10 runs in 11 innings of work. On Tuesday, it was vintage Young, getting 11 fly ball outs.
With Young, the knock has always been his inability to go deep into games. Yost was right in sticking with him to open the seventh. And he was right to pull him as soon as he surrendered his first hit. The velocity chart from Brooks Baseball is a perfect way to illustrate how Young simply doesn’t have the stamina to finish a game.
That’s a gradual decline through 83 pitches. Then factor in Twins batters who were seeing him for the third time and it was definitely the correct call to remove him from the game.
And how about that bullpen? Yost played the platoon match-ups on Tuesday with brilliant success. Franklin Morales, with the infield drawn in, gets a ground out, and he’s followed by the normal seventh inning man, Kelvin Herrera who closes the inning out. All that was left was The Wade Davis Experience for the eighth and Saveman for the ninth.
Second win in a row over the Twins and the Royals have moved back into first place in the AL Central. They also currently own the best record in the American League. The offense hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire in these wins, but a three-game winning streak is still a three-game winning streak. The point being, it’s a long, long season. No team will be defined by a slump in May or early June. Well, as long as the slump doesn’t extend into July and August.
I wanted to close this post with the video of the Sal Perez bomb that doubled the Royals tally in the eighth. It was a monster shot. Sal knew the moment bat made contact with ball. And that sound… Mercy. It carried into the second deck in left, no easy feat in Minnesota. It was a thing of beauty.
Except MLB, in their promotional wisdom, won’t allow that clip to be embedded. Alas. Instead, I’ll embed the Fangraphs win-expectancy graph for the game to show how close the entire contest was on Tuesday.
The fourth and sixth were the Royals best chances to put the game away (or at least tilt it in their favor), but those outs on the bases could have been costly. And all the credit to Young for mowing through the Twins lineup. When you’re living right, you’re living right.